Concern over the issue of human trafficking in Southeast Asia has grown steadily over the past several years with recent events elevating this pernicious problem to crisis levels in the public consciousness. The unearthing of mass graves in trafficking camps in both Thailand and Malaysia, the discovery of hundreds of fishermen enslaved in Indonesia, and the steady stream of vulnerable Bangladeshi and Burmese Rohingya populations seeking refuge across the Andaman Sea have left many people speculating about the scale of the problem and struggling to find solutions. It is impossible to know definitively the scale or scope of human trafficking. This unsettling uncertainty arises, in part, from the lack of robust, accurate, and standardized data related to human trafficking—information that is critical to devising and implementing better policies to combat it. Policies and programs based on poor data will be equally poor in their effectiveness. The corrective impulse should focus not only on collecting more data, but better data.
Jessie Brunner is a program manager with the WSD Handa Center for Human Rights & International Justice.